Ben Stuart teaches on a house united using Philippians 1:27-30
Series: Summer Preaching Series 2014
I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with some Navy Seals. They have great stories because when they’re at home training in the States they do what a lot of dudes would love to do on a daily basis. While you were at high school learning the finer points of algebra, they were out in a field learning the finer points of how to fire a grenade launcher. While you were in the office returning phone calls, they were out in the jungle learning how to stalk a guy.
One weekend two of them and myself were at a wedding, so we had the whole weekend together. One was talkative while the other didn’t talk at all. Except there was one moment on the drive, where the first guy was recommending a particular book to me. I said, “I’m reading a ton of books right now. I don’t know, why would I want to read this book?” As soon as I said that the non-talkative one spoke. He said, “It’s about the warrior mindset.” That’s it. I said, “Okay.” If a guy, who was massive, wore all black, and could decimate you decided to speak to you, you’re going to listen to him. When he’s the guy you remember from a TV show about Basic Underwater Demolition Seal Training, the grueling process to become a Seal, and he was the one that ran past the camera smiling, you want a window into how that mind operates, so of course you’re going to buy the book.
The book was about the Spartans. While there is not much to like or emulate about the ancient Spartans, they had two things going for them that were significant.
First, they were a highly focused society. For them it was a focus entirely centralized on warfare, to the degree that when you were five years old, they took you out on the field and your entire education was on how to kill a guy. They had perfected a system of combat that would devastate their enemies.
Second, they were unified. Have you watched movies like Braveheart where guys would just grab a sword, run, and see how it goes? The Spartans wouldn’t do that. They would form up in rank and when the signal was given, the men in back would take their shields and drop it into the lower back of the man in front of him. At a given moment they would all begin to run in unison. They basically became one singular massive human battering ram. They would just devastate your army. If you were a Thessalonian or Athenian, and you showed up to battle that day, but saw the Spartans lining up on the other side, you’d put your weapons down and start saying your terms of surrender right there.
They were focused and they were unified.
Wherever you have a group of people that are both focused and unified you have a dangerous crew. The Seals are like that too. So was the early church.
When you read about our first brothers and sisters in the Book of Acts, it says they were devoted to the apostles’ teaching and fixed on the beautiful message of Jesus. They had everything in common. They’d meet each other’s needs. The world could not stop them. One of their detractors said about them with frustration at one point, “These people are turning the world upside down. The entire culture is shifting.”
This is what the Book of Philippians is about. It was written by Paul, who had been living his own life, doing whatever he wanted, until he came running face first into the person of Jesus. He saw the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. He fell absolutely in love with him. The Son of God came for us, lived for us, and died for us. He took our shame and sin out of the way, to bring us back to God as family, as a community of God. Paul saw Jesus, heard the gospel, and he was changed. He was unapologetically in love with Jesus. So were the Philippians.
When he writes to them, he says, “You are the fellowship of the gospel. You are the participators of this good news with me. You love Him as much as I do! It’s because you’re partakers of grace. You know what it means to know you’re broken and not okay, and yet have the grace of Jesus come and touch you and heal you and restore you. You are focused with me on Jesus. You love Him, you’ve seen that He is better than any comfort.” The Philippians were a part of this with him.
They just had one problem. They weren’t real unified. They had trouble getting along.
Centuries ago, there were Christians who had trouble getting along with each other. It’s actually not that uncommon is it? Church denominations fight against each other all the time. I saw it in college too. There were two Christian fraternities that would have to bring out extra referees when they competed each other in intermural games. We even do it. When someone else is talking about the amazing things God is doing in their church, how many of you can’t celebrate with them, because you see all the things they’re doing wrong that your church does right? It even happens within our own church. Let’s be honest, some of you on your way in saw that particular person you didn’t really want to see, so you avoided them in the hall.
Sometimes it’s a personality thing; we just don’t get along. I remember I had a buddy in college that would invite me out to lunch, but we’d get there and he would have forgotten his wallet. It was always places I couldn’t afford. So I’d show up frustrated, knowing I couldn’t afford it, was stuck with him, and knew it would be two hours because he chewed incredibly slowly. But I had to love that guy. The Bible says I can’t be like Christ without him.
There is something I meant to be as a man that I can’t be without you. That’s what Ephesians says. God gave some to be apostles, prophets, and teachers that we might all be built up into the head, which is Christ. I can’t look like Christ without you guys. God has rigged it that way.
We come into the family individually, but we grow as a community.
Paul writes to the Philippians about the beauties of the gospel and what it is to know Christ. But then as he steps in, he says we’ve got to get something straight. We’ve got to work out our salvation not by earning it, but rather living in a manner worthy of God in the context of unity. He just wants one thing from us.
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…Philippians 1:27a (ESV)
Worthy in the original language means to conduct yourself as a citizen of the place, to discharge the duties of a citizen of a place. It’s built off the word polis, which means city.
Philippians is the only book in the Bible that mentions it. It was mentioned to the Philippians because it was something significant they would have keyed off on. Back then, the thing you identified with more than anything else was your polis, your city. It wasn’t your interest groups or where you worked. Your sense of identity came from your city. So much so that one writer said, “A man without a city is not a man.” The Philippians were proud of their city.
In 42 BC when Antony’s army defeated Brutus and Cassius. Antony’s army went out to war against them and fought so bravely and powerfully and successfully their leadership awarded them a city, Philippi. They gave them all the benefits of being citizens of Rome, which were many, like not paying taxes ever again. Even thought they were nowhere near Rome, Philippi became a military colony. So when you told a Philippian to act like a citizen of a place, something came out of them. They just loved to be a Philippian.
It would be like if I came here and asked if anyone here was a Cowboy? Some of you that resonated with that would say, “Yep, right here,” making sure your belt buckle was showing. You would naturally start taking on the characteristics of this community you wanted to be a part of.
So when Paul says this, they think of the people that fought with honor, bravery, and courage, that purchased for them the wonderful place they were living in and thought, “I want to live and embody that. I want to be a part of that.” He said yes, polis, but not as a Philippian, but rather as a member of Christ.
Christ is the hero that fought for them. He beat back the darkness, pushing back their shame, burying their guilt, forgiving their sin and bought them a place in the family of God; their citizenship was in heaven. They were a part of the community of Jesus. He wanted them to step into that. He wanted them to live in a way that’s worthy of Him, the one who fought, bought and adopted them. Conduct yourself in a manner worthy of Christ.
That sounds so big. What does it look like to live in a way worthy of what Jesus accomplished?
By looking at Philippi, you can see it’s all worked out in the context of community. You want to honor Him? Love us. Love the people He fought for, lived for, and died for. Love His people.
It would be like if you are just trying to figure out how to encourage me and wanted to know what to do. It’s an easy answer. You would be nice to my kids. I have two little girls, be sweet and kind to them. It would be weird if you came up to me and said, “Dude I just love you. I think you’re the coolest guy. I want to hang out with you and be a part of what you’re doing. But I can’t stand your kids man.” There is no separation between us. Even if they’re difficult, they’re still mine and I love them. To love me is to love them. To love them is to honor me.
Jesus was saying, “You want to live in a way that’s worthy of Me? You love the people I fought for, and lived for, and died for, and rose for, and bought and adopted.” It’s weird to sing praises to Jesus, but then be disrespectful to someone in this place.
How do you live in the manner worthy of the gospel? It’s by living in the context of community.
We need each other.
…so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit…Philippians 1:27b (ESV)
We need to be one, so we can stand. That word stand firm is the idea of feet planted so as to offer resistance. The Spartans had a saying back then, “My sword is for my enemy, my shield is for my brother.” Their shields were built so they would cover the man next to them. When getting closer to battle, other armies would lean into their shields to get more coverage, leaving their brothers exposed. But a Spartan would never do that. As they planted their feet and danger came at them, they would stay planted firm so they could protect each other.
We need each other so we can stand against the onslaught of a difficult world.
Let me be honest, some of you may be used to going to church all your life, but you are completely ineffective for the purposes of Jesus. When you go out and face the difficult and dark things of the world, you go out there alone. In the secret and quiet places, it’s not the praises of Jesus that echo through your heart and mind. Your depression is tearing you apart. Or lust is completely lifting you off your feet. You’re in some dark things that dominate your story. But you don’t want to talk to people about it. You’ll let us pray for your sick uncle, but not the thing that’s dominating and stealing your life from you. You’ll be David. David beat Goliath by himself, so you’ll handle your issues on your own like him.
Yes, David did kill Goliath by himself, but you should keep reading. In 2 Samuel, David was out in a battle and got tired. When he got wearied, a descendant of the giant Goliath pinned him down and was about to kill him, even having a new sword for the occasion. It took Abishai to step in and save David’s life.
Some of you think you’ll just ask God for forgiveness, which He will give you. But you’re still not completely free. You need us for that.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. James 5:16a (ESV)
You want freedom from some of these things in your life? God has given you a solution and it’s called us. For some of you, the most godly thing you’ll do this summer is not sing another song, but rather ask God to show you a godly, mature set of believers you can stand with.
I had two students in my ministry when I was a youth pastor who came to me individually wrestling with depression. It was stealing them from us. I’ll never forget the day we were in a small group and finally one of them had enough of struggling in the dark alone. He looked at his peers and said, “I need to let you guys know I struggle with depression and it really gets me sometimes. I can’t even go to school or function, because of how dark it gets.” He put that out there. Then one of the other guys leaned forward and said, “Me too.” They began to pray for and encourage one another. It’s not like they all got fixed in that moment.
But about a year later, one of them would come and sit next to me at the early service in church. He would always slip out early, look back, and smile at me. He knew I knew where he was going. He’d drive around town and pick up all his theatre friends from high school to bring them to the second service. Only a year before the dominant theme of his story was darkness and sadness. But now the dominant theme was being a shining light in other people’s lives. It wouldn’t have happened without us.
God’s gift to us is the body of Christ. Some of you just need to come to us.
I had another student come to me and say he was wrestling with pornography. I asked him where it got him. He said alone at night on his computer in his bedroom and that he couldn’t stop. I said to get it out of there. We talked about the beauty of Jesus and what it is to walk with Him. A few days later he walked in, held up an Internet chord, and gave it to me. “It’s not going to own me anymore,” and he left. Next day his best friend walked into my office. “Heard you’re collecting these,” and handed me another chord. Those two kids began to pray for one another. The second largest constituency of people at our church at that time came from their high school, which was nowhere near our church.
It wasn’t because they went to school hitting people with Bibles telling them to repent. But rather people wanted to know what was different about them. They seemed happier and lighter. They would say it was Christ and that He really does set people free. They were actually seeing Him change their lives.
One of the most Christian things you can do is ask God to show you some godly, mature believers you can stand with.
Christianity is not just a group of people banding together to keep sin off of us. We’ve got a mission too. We’ve got a message to share with the world. It’s a hurting world that needs to know the Son of God came to rescue and redeem them.
I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel…Philippians 1:27b (ESV)
The term striving together comes from where we get the word athlete. We’re meant to strive together, being a part together of getting the message out. We need each other.
For some of you there is so much more God is calling you to that you’re just not going to do without us. We need you. Some of you are great at writing notes. We need a note from you. Some of you are great at leading, it’s time for you step in and lead. Some of you are great teachers. We need you to teach our kids. We need you to be a part of us so we can strive together for the sake of the gospel. That’s when life gets fun.
Just the other day I was at a house near College Station that had just opened as a home for girls under the age of seventeen that have been trafficked for sex in the state of Texas. They were rescued out of some really dark and sad places and there wasn’t anyone looking out for them. There was a family that said they’d take them, but they didn’t have the money to do so. Someone else in the community said they couldn’t take them, but they could build houses. So they built them a house. We intersected with them and said we couldn’t build houses, but we could call some college students to raise some money to furnish the house and give those girls bedrooms.
I stood out there on the lawn, this collection of Christians from different places, with different gifts and abilities, there to give a home and hope in the name of Jesus to the least of these. I just thanked God for what He had given us and what we can do when we strive together for the faith of the gospel.
Some of you want this kind of community. You want friends to pray with you about the hard things and to run together to make a difference.
Stay focused and God will bring unity.
You might have to be David sometimes. David had to step out and fight Goliath alone. Goliath came charging up threatening their people. No one would go, so David had to go alone. So sometimes you’ll have to step out alone. Some of you are here at service alone and you’ll have to keep coming alone. You’ll have to sign up for a small group alone. It’ll be weird and awkward, but you do it anyway. But I promise you, stay focused.
David stepped out and killed Goliath. Two guys were watching from the back, Saul and Jonathan. Saul hated David, showing there will sometimes be opposition. But when Jonathan saw David step out in faith to do something for the glory of God he wanted it. Jonathan had just done something that crazy too. A few chapters before a garrison of Philistines attacked. When no one else would go, Jonathan went by himself. He had to step out in the name of the lord and then he saw David step out and do the same thing and loved him for it. He just went up to him and started giving him stuff. They became best buddies. In a few chapters when David hits the lowest moment of his life, Jonathan was there, strengthening his hand.
Stay focused and pursue the Lord, even if you have to go alone. I promise you God, in His grace, will show you people running along next to you. As we chase Him together, we stand and strive and the world gets to see the beauty of Jesus through the unity of His people.